FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers must attend training to prevent sexual harassment one day after the House speaker temporarily ceded power while investigators probe a secret sexual harassment settlement signed by four Republicans.
Jeff Hoover had announced he would resign as speaker two months ago, shortly after acknowledging he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim outside of court with a woman who worked for the House Republican Caucus.
But Tuesday, when the legislature convened, Hoover did not resign. Instead, he authorized House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne to preside over the chamber “until further notice.” That opens the door for Hoover to return as speaker once the Legislative Ethics Commission finishes looking into the settlement and whether Hoover and others used money from political donors and lobbyists to pay it.
Meanwhile, Hoover and others must attend mandatory anti-harassment training on Wednesday. It’s part of reforms put in place several years ago after some state workers sued a former Democratic state representative for sexual harassment.
Hoover had announced his resignation in November, one of dozens of powerful men across the country toppled by allegations of sexual harassment or abuse. He denied sexually harassing a woman who once worked for the House Republican Caucus, although he acknowledged sending her inappropriate but consensual text messages.
At the time, Hoover said his resignation was “effective immediately” and in the best interest of the state. But his resignation does not become official unless he formally submits it to the House, and he can only do that when the House is in session.
And when the House convened, Hoover said he has heard from “both Republicans and Democrats, as well as business leaders, political leaders and others across the Commonwealth, encouraging me to reconsider my decision to resign.”
“As I consider the best course forward, and in light of the two pending issues before the Legislative Ethics Commission, I have asked speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne to serve, as the Rules of the House of Representatives provides, as the presiding officer until further notice,” Hoover said in a statement.
Confusion spread on the House floor, as Osborne gaveled the House in session with Hoover’s name still adorning the dais overlooking the chamber. Hoover’s assigned seat had been moved to the back row, and he left shortly after registering his attendance.
“Jeff Hoover is still the speaker of the House,” Osborne told reporters Tuesday.
Osborne would not say whether Hoover still attends leadership meetings or gives instructions to GOP leaders. He said Hoover is still a member of two influential committees that determine which bills get debated on the House floor.
“As speaker pro tem, I am the presiding officer of the House and therefore I am controlling the operations of the House,” Osborne said.
House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said the Democratic caucus “unanimously believes that Speaker Jeff Hoover should keep the commitment he made to the people of Kentucky in November and resign immediately.”
Hoover was one of four Republican lawmakers to settle the sexual harassment claim. The other three have all lost their committee chairmanships. None has resigned from the legislature.
House Republican Caucus spokeswoman Daisy Olivo has filed a lawsuit alleging that Hoover had a sexual relationship with the woman and used money from prominent political donors to pay the settlement. The woman, through her attorney, said none of that was true. The Associated Press generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual misconduct.
Hoover and the other Republican lawmakers say a confidentiality clause in the settlement prevents them from discussing it publicly.
House GOP leaders have asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to use its subpoena power to determine if lawmakers used money from political donors or registered lobbyists to pay the settlement, which could violate state law.
Hoover’s latest action comes after weeks of feuding with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has publicly urged Hoover to give up not just his position as speaker, but his seat in the legislature. Bevin told a WKYX radio on Tuesday he still expects Hoover to resign this week.
In a news release explaining his decision, Hoover said he resigned in November because the governor publicly called for him to step down. He said he wanted to “protect House members from the intervention of the Executive branch into purely legislative matters.”
A spokeswoman for Bevin did not respond to an email seeking comment.
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(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)